John Ruskin

8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900


John Ruskin (William Downey,

John Ruskin might not be as well known in modern times as some of his contemporaries, such as Charles Darwin, Charlotte Brontë, or JMW Turner, but his legacy is certainly equal to, or even exceeds that of many of the Victorian greats.

Primarily known as an art critic, he was also a painter in his own right, as well as a poet, creator of fairy tales, social commentator, conservationist, and social justice campaigner. Ruskin’s wide scope of interests included geology, architecture, meteorology, and religion. His writings on nature and politics in particular would go on to have a significant impact on modern British society.

John Ruskin found the Lake District to be truly inspirational, and would eventually make the area his home. Today you can visit his former home in Cumbria, as well as a number of other sites of interest around the national park.


John Ruskin was born in London in 1819, to his father, John James Ruskin, a keen Romanticist, and his mother, Margaret Ruskin, née Cock, an evangelical Christian. Both had considerable influence on Ruskin, who would later go on to develop a wide range of interests and passions. Ruskin’s father was a sherry and wine importer, and as such, Ruskin spent a considerable amount of his childhood touring Europe with his father and these travels had a significant influence on his writings and poetry.

Ruskin studied at Oxford University, and had some success with publications of his poetry. However, it was when he was inspired to respond to a critic’s scathing attack on the works of J M W Turner that Ruskin first began to gain significance as an art critic. His ideas concerning his defense of Turner were subsequently developed into a book, “Modern Painters”, and Ruskin went on to write an additional four volumes, all concerning the role of nature in art. Ruskin became a popular touring lecturer, and he spoke and wrote on a plethora of different topics. In later years, he was primarily concerned with social issues and wrote a great deal in support of workers’ rights and the problems with capitalism.

Ruskin was briefly married to Effie Gray, but the marriage was short lived and never consummated. He later fell in love with Rose La Touche who was 29 years his junior and who rejected his proposals and later died at age 27. Ruskin never stopped mourning for La Touche, and it’s thought her rejection and death led him to develop mental illness. His mental health condition deteriorated over time and he passed away in Coniston in 1900.


After a crisis of faith in 1858 left Ruskin doubting the existence of God, he turned much of his focus on social justice issues, and his writings produced during this period have had impact across the world. Mahatma Ghandi was so inspired by Ruskin’s political essay, “Unto This Last” that he used it to form the basis of his own philosophy. Ruskin’s work also inspired socialists in the UK, including William Beveridge and Clement Atlee, who went on to create the British welfare state.

Links to the Lake District

Ruskin was just five years old when he visited the Lake District for the first time. He described the view from Friar’s Crag at Derwent Water as being the first thing that he remembered, and claimed that is was one of the best views in Europe. Ruskin’s writings on the conservation of nature would later inspire Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, a local vicar, to create the National Trust. Ruskin moved to Cumbria in 1871, having purchased Brantwood, a property overlooking Coniston Water. This would be his final home, and he died there in 1900, and was buried in the Coniston churchyard.

Sites of Interest

You can visit John Ruskin’s former home at Brantwood, where you will find a collection of his paintings, writings, furnishings, and other personal items, on display. The house is set on a 250-acre estate and many of the gardens retain Ruskin’s original landscape design.

In Coniston, you can visit the Ruskin Museum, where there are additional collections of paintings, sketches, writings, and other items on display. At St Andrew’s churchyard in Coniston, you can visit Ruskin’s grave, where the large headstone depicts some of his philosophies.

Friars Crag remains a beautiful viewpoint to this day, and our family friendly walking guide, Keswick Lakeside Round, will take you to view point and is perfect for little legs and pushchairs.